Monday, April 20, 2015

Astrobotic strives to be FedEx to the Moon

Astrobotic Griffin lunar lander and Red Rover LR. GLXP Hakuto team announced it has joined in their attempt to win the X-PRIZE contest, riding to the Moon atop a Falcon 9 booster [Astrobotic/CMU]. 
Tim Reyes

Astrobotic Technology, a leading Google Lunar X-PRIZE competitor, is setting up to become the first delivery service to the Moon.

With a low-cost launch, they now have a lander with the potential for precision landings driven by new system on a chip (SOC) technologies developed by Nvidia with help from General Electric.

Astrobotic knows that space and robotics are not that easy, but at a recent Nvidia-sponsored technology conference, the company’s engineers were presenting technologies that it argues could ease and accelerate the path to the Moon.

And the company is offering anyone — including their X-PRIZE competitors — a ride to the Moon. Safely on the surface they propose a civilized Mad Max road race to the finish line – 500 meters away –  the winner taking  the $20 million grand prize.

To date, only the Japanese team HAKUTO has joined them.

To make their moon mission a reality, the company is blending an interesting mix of old and new into their lander design, the Griffin Lander.

The new includes the Nvidia Tegra K1 chip used initially in its Jetson dev kit. The old is none other than General Electric designing the custom boards based on Tegra K1 and low-cost computer boards they hope will be recognized as a better, cheaper, alternative to existing radiation-hardened electronics costing millions. The Nvidia dev kit costs little more than $300.

Tapping their own wiz-kids from Carnegie-Mellon, Astrobotics is using laser-guided imagery that was developed to compete for the DARPA Grand Challenge for autonomous vehicles. For Astrobotic, the convergence of all of this tech is designed to get them beyond just the Google Lunar X-PRIZE but much more.

Read the featured article, HERE.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Mare Nubium impact with plume captured and analyzed

North is to the left, west below in this animation showing what is almost certainly an impact and its plume (right) on the lunar surface in Mare Nubium, on the morning side of the terminator, February 26 [Marco Iten/GLR Group].
Marco Iten
Raffaello Lena
Stefano Sposetti
Geological Lunar Research Group

Report from Selenology Today Preliminary Report 2015:

Abstract: We report the detection of an interesting luminous event most probably generated by a meteoroidal impact on the lunar surface occurred at 21h 35m 22.871s ± 0.010s UT, the 26 February 2015. The position of the flash was along the terminator at selenographic coordinates 7.9° ± 0.6° W; 26.1° ± 1.6° S. The brightness of the flash 0.16 s after the initial detection was +8.0 magV. After the main lightdrop a successive residual diffuse light lasted for several seconds.

Under the assumption of a meteoroidal impact we argue that this post luminous event and its ever growing dimensions was likely caused by the sunlight reflection on ejected materials released by the impact. Thus, future high resolution orbital data, e.g., from LRO spacecraft (NAC images) could allow the detection of this crater. Because this event was captured only by one observer, we checked for satellite glints and evaluated the likelihood of a meteor hitting head on our atmosphere.

1. Instruments observing methods, location The detection was made by Marco Iten from Gordola, Switzerland. He used a 125 mm refractor with a focal length of 800 mm. He also used an 8bit Watec 902H2 Ultimate videocamera working in CCIR mode with these settings: Gamma = OFF; BLC = OFF; AGC = LO. A GPS time inserter (KIWIOSD) printed the Universal Time with millisecond precision in the video frames. The software Virtualdub was used to record the AVI file in a hard disk, with Huffyuv video compressor.

Iten's observatory is located at:
Lat: 46d 10m 44s North
Long: 08h 52m 29s East
Alt: 215 m

Stefano Sposetti was simultaneously filming the Moon from its observatory, but the lunar region where the flash occurred was outside its field of view.

Detection: The initial flash occurred at 21:35:22.871 ± 0.010UT, 26 February 2015 (Fig. 1.). Marco Iten discovered it visually using no dedicated searching software.

Here some informations about the Moon at the detection instant, accordingly to sky simulator software TheSkySix ®.

Equatorial 2000:
RA: 05h 23m 27s
Dec: +17°44'32"

Azim: 250°41'00"
Alt: +41°21'54"

Phase (%): 62.19
Air mass: 1.51
Moon angular diameter: 0°30'33"
Moon distance (km): 3.910 E+05

Artificial satellites: We checked for artificial satellites in the field of view using the website

The satellite Molniya 340 (21196 1991022A) was at an angular distance of 32 arcmin from the Moon center at the time of the detection. We exclude that this satellite caused the detected flash in Iten's avi.

Luminosity evolution

From the very beginning of the event to +0.14 s (the first seven 20 msfieldintegrationtime) the intensity of all, or at least some, of the pixels is saturated. 

The luminosity of the flash at +0.16 s (in the eight field) is +8.0 ± 1.0 magV (Fig. 2). The intensity decreases again for about a half second. From that instant on, we notice an increase in the intensity of light and also an increase of the diameter of the source. The temporal evolution of the luminosity is showed in figure 3 and was made with the software Limovie©. 

For the photometry we used the star GSC 13002062 = TYC 130020621 with these characteristics:

B 10.97 ; V 9.54 ; R 8.88. The star was visible at 20:25:20 UT.

Information about that star were extracted from website

The peak brightness of the flash was between +5 and +6 magV, but this is a very rough estimation because of the saturated pixels at that instant. The solar elevation on the impact point was determined to 0.9°, computed using the LTVT software package by Mosher and Bondo (©2006) for the date February 26 2015 at 21h 35m 22.871s. Thus, the flash occurred in the dark side near the terminator.

Spatial increase of the light source

The angular sampling of the individual images composing the video file is 2.4 arcsec/pixel. We noticed a non circular increase of the light source, therefore we calculated its augmentation with respect to x and y components (Fig. 4). The apparent radius of the Moon is almost parallel to the x axis.

At the location of the event, the absolute sampling of the image (normal to the moon radius, ie. of the y axis), is 4.5 km/pixel (on the lunar surface). The absolute sampling of the image in the x direction has to be multiplied by a factor 1.24 (= 1/sin 54°) i.e. to 5.6 km/pixel.

At time +6.62 s the x and y diameter of the external border of the “lightcloud” are about 10 pixels and 12 pixels, respectively. This translates to an effective length on the lunar surface of 54 km and 56 km.

If we assume that the increase of the light source is due to the ejected materials elevated from the bottom and if this cloud has a circular shape relative to a tangent plane to the surface, then the mean speed of the augmenting radius is about 4 km/s.

The increase of the lightsource is showed in figure 5 and in some animations we posted at

A visual inspection of the “lightcloud” in the video animation confirms that the expansion lasted until +10s. This translates to a circular effective diameter of about 80 km.

Selenographic Lunar coordinates

The coordinates of the detected flash are determined to:

Long: 7.9° ± 0.6° West
Lat: 26.1° ± 1.6° South

in Mare Nubium, near the crater Lippershey P, located to the south of Birt crater.

The analyzed image displays lunar features that were of very low contrast on the dark limb of the imaged lunar surface. Thus, after alignment with the edge of the lunar disk, computation of the libration, and overlay of the rotated Moon's surface matching the image generated by a simulated image obtained with the LOLA DEM, a coordinate map was superimposed. This procedure was performed using the LTVT software package by Mosher and Bondo (2006). Generating an elevation map of a part of the lunar surface requires its three dimensional (3D) reconstruction. Recently, a global lunar digital elevation map (DEM) obtained with the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) instrument on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft has been released. It has a lateral resolution of 1/64 degrees or about 500 m in the equatorial regions of the Moon

Hence, the rendered image obtained using LTVT and the LOLA DEM, assuming the same illumination conditions and librations of the observing session, was saturated allowing a close comparison with the appearance of the saturated terminator as seen in Fig. 2, and further refined considering the uncertainty comparing the map with the WAC imagery of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Active Meteor Showers

Figure 6 shows the active meteor showers accordingly to the predictions of the software Lunarscan©. Because of the small activity of the showers at that date, we think of a sporadic nature of the meteor shower. 

Evaluating the possibility of an headon meteor strike

We report this luminous event as an “unconfirmed lunar flash” being considered an impact candidate. In fact, considering that the event was only recorded by one video camera the possibility of a meteor "headon" producing the recorded light cannot be ruled out. Therefore we tried to evaluate the post spread of light as being emitted by the ionization of the high altitude gases of our atmosphere. Sometimes luminous meteors leave luminous trails and in this chapter we try to discard this possibility. We got the direction of the winds and their speed using the website published by the University of Wyoming©. Here we could download data from balloons sent from Milan (LIML) and from Payerne (LSMP), the 2 nearest stations from Iten's observatory at 12h intervals (00h and 12h). The balloons reach about 30 km of height. At that altitude and also some kilometers higher, the direction of the winds during the time interval between Feb 26.5 and Feb 27.0 is around 270 deg and their speed from 30 to 40 knots (LIML data) and from 30 to 99 knots (LSMP data). Projecting the wind speed along the normal direction of the line of sight, one gets, with a conservative wind speed of 18 m/s in the interval of 6.6 s, a drift of about 350 arcsec. This is about 12 times more than the drift in East direction of the “lightcloud” in the same interval. The western direction of the winds cannot explain the drift of the “lightcloud” in almost a circular shape. Hence we confidentially exclude that the drift of the “lightcloud” was caused by winds at 30 km height.

Size of the probable impactor and of the produced crater

In this study, and under the assumption of an impact event, the same formalism and equations as in the works by Bellot Rubio et al. (2000), Ortiz et al. (2000), Ortiz et al. (2002), and Carbognani (2000) was followed, including the kinetic energy that is translated into impactor mass assuming a typical sporadic impactor speed. According to the statistics of a large meteoroid orbit database (Steel, 1996) this speed is approximately 20.2 km s1 on Earth and 16.9 km s1 on the Moon, after correcting for the different escape velocities of the Earth and the Moon.

Moreover a short routine provided by Melosh and Beyer (1999) was used to evaluate the scaling equations to determine the diameter of a crater given details on the nature of the projectile, conditions of impact, and state of the target. The transient crater diameter is evaluated by three independent methods, yield scaling, piscaling and Gault's semiempirical relations supplemented by rules on how crater size depends on gravity and angle of impact.

The parameters used in the calculation are the projectile density, the target density (2700 kg m3), the impact velocity (16.9 km s1), the peak brightness (5.5 MagV) and the duration of 0.22 seconds. Using the luminous efficiency η = 2 x 103 (the nominal value determined from Leonid impact flashes, e.g., Bellot Rubio et al., 2000; Ortiz et al., 2002), the mass of the impactor would be 1.1 kg. Based on the above data and assuming a spherical projectile, the diameter of the impactor was inferred to be approximately between 9 and about 20 cm considering a bulk density ranging between 0.3 g cm3 (soft cometary material) to 3.7 g cm3 (corresponding to ordinary chondrites). This impactor would strike the target with an impact energy of 1.7 x 108 Joules (4.0 x 108 MegaTons). If the meteoroid is associated as a sporadic source, the impact angle is unknown. We have used the most likely angle of 45° to estimate the size of the crater produced by the impact.

Using the Piscaled law for transient craters, the final crater would be a simple crater with a rim to rim diameter of about 1520 m. 

However, considering that the brightness of the detected flash was saturated and the described presence of a luminous post event, the values inferred for the mass of the probable impactor and the crater size originated by the impact could be considerably higher.

Future high resolution orbital data, e.g., from LRO spacecraft (NAC images) could allow the detection of this crater. Hence, it will be interesting to compare LRO high resolution images (NAC images with their resolution of ~1 m on the ground) taken before and after the event. Future studies will be performed to complete our analysis, including the search of the crater, and thus to estimate mass of impact produced dust cloud and the size of exospheric dust particles and to perform hydrodynamic modeling of this event.


Data about winds are obtained in collaboration with Meteoswiss

We thank the Wyoming University for the source winds data set


[1] Sposetti, S., Iten, M., Lena, R. 2011. Detection of a meteoroidal impact on the Moon. Selenology Today 23,132.

[2] Lena, R., Iten, M., Sposetti, S., 2011. Detection of three meteoroidal impact on the Moon. Selenology Today 24,1229.

[3] Lena, R., Iten, M., Sposetti, S., 2011. Detection of two probable meteoroidal impacts on the Moon. Selenology Today 25,6065.

[4] Iten, M.,Lena, R., Sposetti, S., 2013. Five probably meteoroids impact on the Moon. Selenology Today 31,1015.

[5] Lena, R., Manna, A., Sposetti, S., 2013. Detection of a probable small meteoroidal impact on the Moon. Selenology Today 33,49.

[6] Bellot Rubio, L.R., Ortiz, J.L., Sada, P.V., 2000. Observation and interpretation of meteoroid impact flashes on the Moon. Earth Moon Planets 82–83, 575–598.

[7] Carbognani, A.2000. Impatti sulla Luna

[8] Steel, D., 1996. Meteoroid orbits. Space Sci. Rev. 78, 507–553.

[9] Ortiz, J.L., Sada, P.V., Bellot Rubio, L.R. et al. (2000) Optical detection of meteoroidal impacts on the moon. Nature 405. 921923.

[10] Ortiz, J.L., Quesada, J.A., Aceituno, J., Aceituno, F.J., Bellot Rubio, L.R. 2002. Observation and interpretation of Leonid impact flashes on the Moon in 2001. Astrophys. J. 576. 567–573.

[11] Melosh, H.J., and Beyer, R. A. 1999. Computing Crater Size from Projectile Diameter.

[12] Mosher, J., & Bondo, H., 2006. Lunar Terminator Visualization Tool (LTVT). 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Understanding the legal status of the Moon

Astrobotic (CM) Moon Digger concept [Mark Maxwell/Astrobotic/JAXA].
Urbano Fuentes
The Space Review

In 1969, the United States successfully performed the first human landing on the surface of the Moon. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin placed an American flag in the lunar surface, winning the space race against the Soviet Union. The US government stated later that no sovereignty claims of any kind were made on the Moon. After that historical breakthrough and for decades to come, space exploration suffered a considerable slowdown. The United States had won the space race, and no serious efforts have since been made by any nation to return to the Moon.

In 1985, researchers at the University of Wisconsin discovered that the lunar soil had a considerable amount of the rare isotope of helium known as helium-3 (He-3). This scarce element could be used in energy production, in fusion power plants that—hypothetically—could produce an amount equivalent to 130,000,000 barrels of oil per ton of He-3.1 . It is also environmentally friendly, producing no greenhouse gases or radiation.

Whether because of helium-3 or not, several nations have recently shown interest in returning to the Moon. In 2013, China became the third country to land a spacecraft on the Moon, and other nations have places for lunar missions in the next several years. Besides nations, several private corporations had expressed interest in lunar missions of one kind or another.

Law in this area is not particularly broad. Nevertheless, during the Cold War and because of the progress in the field of space exploration in those early years, some international treaties related to the legal status of the Moon and the outer space region arose, creating a legal regime that is still valid today. Those treaties are the Outer Space Treaty (1967) and the Moon Treaty (1979), currently the existing legal framework valid to some extent.

These treaties, while overlapping to some degree, settled a series of principles regarding human activities outside Earth. The Outer Space Treaty forbids the placement of weapons of mass destruction in space; it also addressed the situation of lunar sovereignty, claiming that the celestial bodies could not be subject of national appropriation. The later Moon Treaty established that the Moon shall be regarded as common heritage of mankind, in a similar regime as the one applicable to the Deep Sea Bed Area.

This essay will address primarily the legal status of the Moon, using the existing framework on the subject. Taking into account the current state of space exploration and other legal systems similar to the one of the Moon, such as the Deep Sea Bed Area, it will analyse the question of whether the Moon could be considered the Common Heritage of Mankind, or if some other legal concept should be used in relation to its resources.

Read the full essay in The Space Review, HERE.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Review: the Moon as 'blue water port' to the stars

Moonscraper 2040 - Honorable Mention: 2011 Skyscraper Competition [Luis Quinones].
Jessica Guenzel
Phys Org

"Crotts' new book, titled The New Moon: Water, Exploration, and Future Habitation, explores his innovative ideas and many more in meticulous detail, providing hard scientific findings that topple decades-old ideas about the moon's development and structure. Readers may well wonder why the U.S. abandoned its lunar exploration program in 2010, just as so many discoveries were emerging.

"Today, we know that billions of tons of water exist on the moon in the form of ice, and Crotts is sure that more will be found. It's not likely the kind of H2O earthlings drink but rather one rich in heavy water—or deuterium oxide—a form of water in which the hydrogen atom's nucleus is double the mass of ordinary hydrogen, rendering it undrinkable by humans without processing.

"Crotts believes the moon's water could be broken down into liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, a potent mix that makes an ultra-efficient form of rocket fuel, the same kind that powered the NASA Saturn V rockets that boosted the Apollo spaceships out of Earth's atmosphere towards the moon.

"You'd have to look hard to find another propellant that's as efficient or better," said Crotts. The moon also has carbon monoxide that Crotts said could be converted with water into methane, another efficient and powerful rocket fuel.

"With all that potential rocket fuel, Crotts naturally believes that the moon could one day be transformed into an interplanetary gas station for the satellites and rockets that today get discarded because they eventually run out of fuel and drift into the wrong orbit."

Read the full review, HERE.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Lunar Orbiter Image Restoration Project: Last Mile

Until the original tapes were found, stored in an abandoned McDonalds Restaurant on site at Ames Research Center, and subsequently read and remastered using totally unavailable equipment built from scratch, this represents our best view of of the rugged slopes of the central peaks of Copernicus crater, a facsimile of a photograph developed in lunar orbit and radioed back to Earth from Lunar Orbiter V, August 17, 1967. For comparison, see the photographs that follow below [USGS]. 
From moonandback video, May 2010
Dennis Wingo

The Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) is a public/private project to recover, from the original master tapes, the image data from the five spacecraft NASA sent to the moon in the 1960’s and provide it to the scientific community and the public.  The first is done through a peer review process and then the data is provided to the National Space Science Data Center (NSSDC) for archiving.  We also have a public website through NASA at the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) at the NASA Ames Research Center.  This missive is to explain the background of the mission, the character of the data, and why it is important to our scientific and national history.

At this time we have completed over 90% of the work necessary to archive and publish these images.  However, sometimes that last 10% is the hardest and we have in the dozens of terabytes of data to complete the processing of our image captures.  Why doesn't NASA pay for this?  They have paid for the vast majority of our work.  NASA’s Space Science Mission Directorate, NASA Ames, and and SSERVI have been magnificent in support of our work.  However, NASA’s budget is severely constrained, and for legacy projects like this, it is our work in technoarchaeology (literally the archaeology of technology) that is saving this data for posterity.

Field of view captured in by Lunar Orbiter V in 1967, shown in the image further above, outlined on a more recent photographic survey by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), LROC M181302109R, spacecraft orbit 11832, January 15, 2012 [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
When we started this project, it was only to save the images of Lunar Orbiter’s II and III.  However, in 2011 NASA asked us how much it would cost to complete all five orbiters.  We estimated $400,000.  NASA provided $300,000 of this, leaving a gap of $100,000.  This is why we ask for your support in our crowdfunding effort, to complete this task.  These images, provided on the SSERVI website, will be free to the public with no copyright.  The American taxpayer paid for this effort and even though our company has also contributed materially to the effort and we are extending this through your generous donations through crowdfunding, we want this to be provided free of charge, or any intellectual property right restrictions.

Detail from LOIRP Lunar Orbiter V (Image 151-H1 -Copernicus Central Uplift) The LOIRP Image was derived from the original analog tapes from the LO ground stations and has 4x the dynamic range of the LO film archive. This image with a resolution of about 2 meters, taken on August 16, 1967 from 103 km. This version of the LO-V-151-H image is from the original ground station tape from the Woomera ground station in Australia (tape W5-58).
NASA had stored these original analog data tapes for over four decades, but if it were not for our project and former NASA archivist Nancy Evan’s preservation of the tape drives in her barn, this archive at its best quality would be lost to history.  Following is a description of the Lunar Orbiters, their camera, the images and what we are doing to preserve this legacy of the early Apollo program.

Background on the Lunar Orbiter

In 1966-67 NASA sent five spacecraft to the Moon to do a high resolution photo reconnaissance of the surface in preparation for the manned Apollo lunar landings.  This was the first time in human history, other than a few closeups before impact from the Ranger spacecraft, that the moon had been seen up close and personal.

Enjoy the full post from Dennis Wingo, HERE.

Related Posts:
The LOIRP time machine looks back 43 years (June 3, 2010)
New releases from Lunar Orbiter II (1966) - (May 7, 2010)
Boulders of Copernicus (December 11, 2009)
LOIRP: Boulder Trails on the Moon (December 10, 2009)
Lunar Orbiter's originals vs. LOIRP restorations (December 9, 2009)
New restored detail from Lunar Orbiter II (December 8, 2009)
LOIRP configures second FR-900 tape drive (November 12, 2009)
The importance of lunar water (September 28, 2009)
LOIRP remasters the Moon's South Pole (August 14, 2009)
Lockheed Martin donates Clean-Room to LOIRP (August 12, 2009)
LOIRP astounds again, re-release of LO-II0162 (1967)
with each of three high-res sub-frames
 (August 10, 2009)
Full Earth, as seen by Orbiter V (August 7, 2009)
Lunar Orbiter III-154-H2 (June 16, 2009)
LOIRP recovers Lunar Orbiter IV lunar South Pole image from 1967 (June 16, 2009)
LOIRP recovers detail of Fra Mauro and future landing site of Apollo 14 (June 11, 2009)
New LOIRP high res Lunar Orbiter image of western Oceanus Procellarum (June 10, 2009)
LOIRP recovers image of Ranger 8 impact (June 9, 2009)
LOIRP's "Pictures of the Century" (March 23, 2009)
More astounding new detail from LOIRP (February 26, 2009)
Breakthrough in Lunar Orbiter photograph remastering (February 20, 2009)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Astrobotic, Hakuto team up to ride Falcon 9 to Moon

The combined strategy utilizes the Astrobotic "Griffin" lander (carrying their "Red Rover," in foreground) to deploy a total of three robotic rovers, including the Hakuto "Tetris" and "Moonraker" [Astrobotic/CM].
Angela Moscaritolo

Two rivals battling it out in Google's $30 million competition to land a private spacecraft on the moon are teaming up for a joint trip to the lunar surface.

Hakuto, the only Japanese team competing in Google's Lunar XPrize competition, and Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic on Monday announced they are partnering for a moon journey during the second half of 2016.

Hakuto rover Moonraker (and back-up) undergoing hazard and slope avoidance testing in 2014 [Tim Stevens/C|NET].
The plan is that Hakuto's twin rovers — dubbed "Moonraker" and "Tetris" — will "piggyback" on Astrobotic's so-called "Griffin" lander to reach the moon.

Hatuto sub-rover Tetris [Tim Stevens/C|NET].
Astrobotic will launch the mission next year on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla. After touching down, Hakuto's rovers will be simultaneously released alongside Astrobotic's "Andy" rover, developed by Carnegie Mellon University.

Read the full story HERE.

Additional story at Pittsburgh Business Times, HERE.

Astrobotic Technology Red Rover design concept, picked by Popular Science as one of 100 Best Innovations of 2011.

Monday, February 23, 2015

SDI: Military uses of the Moon and Asteroids (1983)

NASA/DOD joint lunar reconnaissance and instrument test platform Clementine, "lost and gone forever" following its remarkable and successful mission in 1994.
David S.F. Portree

On the evening of 23 March 1983, President Ronald Reagan addressed the people of the United States from the Oval Office. Citing aggressive moves on the part of the Soviet Union, he defended proposed increases in U.S. military spending and the introduction of new missiles and bombers. He then called for a revolution in U.S. strategic doctrine:

Let me share with you a vision of the future. . .What if free people could live secure in the knowledge that their security did not rest upon the threat of instant U.S. retaliation to deter a Soviet attack, that we could intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reached our own soil or that of our allies? I know this is a formidable technical task, one that may not be accomplished before the end of this century. . .I call upon the scientific community in our country, those who gave us nuclear weapons, to turn their great talents now to the cause of Mankind and world peace, to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.

Thus was born the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), which is perhaps better known by its cinema-inspired nickname “Star Wars.” This post is not meant to discuss the geopolitical ramifications or technical feasibility of SDI. It will instead focus on a lesser-known aspect of SDI planning.

Read the fascinating full story at WIRED, HERE.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Apollo era museum in Salado, Texas

Ron Finkle and a primary exhibit in his remarkable home-based museum of the Apollo program, between Waco and Austin in Texas [Michael Miller | FME News Service]
Deborah McKeon
FME News Service
Killeen Daily Herald

Belton — Ron Finkle grew up during the Apollo era, a time in history he said he’s pretty sure won’t ever be repeated.

Finkle’s fascination with space exploration inspired him to create a small aviation museum in his home consisting of scale models he built and had commissioned, as well as autographs.

A centerpiece of that museum is now a lunar roving vehicle model that Finkle designed and built.

Although many scale-model companies re-created the command module, the crew’s quarters and flight control section, the service module for propulsion and spacecraft support systems, none has recreated an authentic-looking land rover, Finkle said.

The lunar roving vehicle allowed astronauts to travel farther on the moon’s surface during the last three missions of the Apollo program, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Finkle spent about six months from start to finish on the land rover, revising it seven times and tweaking it each time, he said.

Daniel Tagtow with Innovate, a product development company based in Austin, created the computer designs, coming up with the specifications for the scale model. Those figures were approved by Finkle and sent to Stratasys Direct Manufacturing, a 3-D printing company in Belton.

Read the full story, HERE.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Students build dust mitigation experiments with NASA

Students at two Hawaii schools have teamed up with NASA to develop lunar dust mitigation experiments which may be tested  on Google Lunar X-Prize contestant landers in the near future [HawaiiNewsNow].
Lisa Kubota

Students at two Hawaii schools are embarking on a new space mission. They're teaming up with NASA on an experiment that is heading to the moon. Students at Iolani School and Kealakehe High School have been working on the lunar project for months now. NASA developed the electrodynamic dust shield (EDS) to repel pesky planetary dust that gathers on space gear. The technology, which uses electricity to clear off surfaces, hasn't been tested yet in space.

"The dust on the moon is very sharp and scratchy so during NASA's Apollo experience they found that the astronauts were coming back with visors that they basically couldn't see out of because it had gotten so dusted up and scratched up when they tried to wipe them off," explained Iolani teacher Gilson Killhour.

The project involves NASA, the two schools, the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems (PISCES) and a Google Lunar X-PRIZE team. Each campus built a mockup lander and designed a frame for the dust shield.

"It's a very unique opportunity that's probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing and I'm glad I was able to jump on it and be able to participate," said Iolani senior Keegan McCrary.

"If they do make it to the moon, they'll test their own test for Google and then they'll test ours, which is the EDS. They'll have the rover, which is back there, and it will circle around and video," said Iolani senior Veronica Shei.

The students will test their experiment at a PISCES site high atop Mauna Kea next month.

View the original report, HERE.

An additional report on this topic was produced by Cam Tran at KITV (Honolulu), HERE.

The search for transient frost using laser altimetry

Laser altimetry map of the Moon's northern polar region, north of 80° at 20 meters resolution. The crater Lovelace (57.06 km; 82.08°N, 250.49°E), referenced below, is southwest of Hermite, where the lowest temperatures yet recorded in the Solar System have been measured on the pole-facing walls, in permanent shadow [NASA/GSFC].


M. Lemelin,
University of Hawaii at Manoa

Introduction: The possibility of lunar polar ice was suggested by Harold Urey in the 1950's [1], and has likely been directly detected at the North Pole of Mercury by MESSENGER. That detection was based on the presence of reflectance anomalies seen by the Mercury Laser Altimeter (MLA) that occurred only where models of the surface temperature allow long-duration preservation of surface water ice against sublimation [2,3].

Anomalous reflectance is also seen at the lunar poles, revealed by laser measurements. The reflectance of permanently shadowed regions is systematically higher than nearby areas that receive at least some illumination [2,3,4] (Fig. 1). Models suggest that if the higher reflectance is due to the presence of water ice; up to 14 wt.% could be present depending on the distribution of frost within or on the regolith.

Figure 1. DIVINER maximum temperature (left) and LOLA reflectance (right) for the north polar crater Lovelace. The blue patch in the temperature image shows the location of a permanently shadowed region. The corresponding location in the reflectance image clearly show higher reflectance than the surroundings
Results of lunar observations by the Deep Impact High-Resolution Instrument – Infrared spectrometer (HRI-IR) in the 3 μm region and by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) Lyman Alpha mapping project (LAMP) in the far-UV region both show that spectral features consistent with hydration of the surface are diurnally variable. This indicates that water is pos-sibly mobile on the lunar surface [5,6]. Because the lifetime of water molecules in the lunar atmosphere is short against dissociation (~20 hours) compared to the lunar diurnal cycle, water must be continuously pro-duced to account for the observations. Mobile water will trap on cold surfaces during the lunar night and be released when surfaces are illuminated during the day.

In this study, we seek evidence for transient water frost on the polar surfaces using reflectance data from the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA), and temperature data from the DIVINER radiometer, both onboard the LRO. We aim to search for areas that may “load” with surface frost during the night causing in-creased reflectance, and unload during the day reducing the reflectance. Detection of transient surface frost constrains the rate of input into the lunar volatile system.

Methods and datasets: LOLA measures the backscattered energy of the returning altimetric laser pulse at 1064 nm. This data is used to map the reflectivity of the Moon at zero-phase angle with a photo-metrically uniform data set. The zero-phase geometry is insensitive to lunar topography and enables the characterization of subtle variations in lunar albedo, even at high latitudes where such measurements are not possible with the Sun as the illumination source. The DIVINER radiometer simultaneously measures the bolometric temperature of the lunar surface.

To find evidence of transient surface frost, we examined locations where reflectance data from LOLA exists at both low (less than 156 K, a loss of 100 μm of frost per month or less, sufficiently cold for ice to persist during a single lunar night [7,8]) and high temperatures (greater than 201 K, a loss of 1 mm of frost per month or more, no possibility of retaining surface ice [7,8]) using the DIVINER radiometer data, seeking changes in albedo with temperature. We search the LOLA reflectance dataset for locations that have reflectances measured at both low and high temperatures using DIVINER tem-perature measurements obtained simultaneously with LOLA data. For this initial search, we examined both polar regions at a spatial resolution of 2 pixels per degree (~15 km per pixel), within ±50-90º latitude.

Initial Results: For both polar regions (±50-90º latitude), we find that most of the pixels outside permanently shadowed regions are subject to both low (less than 156 K) and high (greater than 201 K) temperatures. Figure 2 shows the LOLA reflectance data for both poles when the temperature of a given pixel is either greater than 156 K (Fig. 2 left) or greater than 201 K (Fig. 2, right).

Methods and datasets: LOLA measures the backscattered energy of the returning altimetric laser pulse at 1064 nm. This data is used to map the reflectivity of the Moon at zero-phase angle with a photo-metrically uniform data set. The zero-phase geometry is insensitive to lunar topography and enables the characterization of subtle variations in lunar albedo, even at high latitudes where such measurements are not possible with the Sun as the illumination source. The DIVINER radiometer simultaneously measures the bolometric temperature of the lunar surface.

By subtracting the 1064 nm reflectance when the temperature is high (greater than 201 K) from the reflectance when the temperature is low (below 156 K), we find that the global difference in reflectance averages near 0 for both polar regions (Fig. 3). Therefore, we do not detect a general temperature dependent reflectance variation.

Figure 2. LOLA 1064 nm reflectance for (A) the North Pole and (B) the South Pole. The reflectance when the temperature is low (less than 156°K) is shown on the left and the reflectance when the temperature is high (greater than 201°K) is shown on the right.
Figure 3. LOLA 1064 nm reflectance difference between the reflectance when the temperature is high (greater than 201° K) and when the temperature is low (less than 156° K), for (A) the North Pole and (B) the South Pole.
Discussion and future work: We did not detect a general temperature dependent reflectance variation in our study for either polar region with a detection precision of about 1%. Using a simple model of a nonabsorbing layer over an absorbing substrate, a very small optical depth is required to raise the reflectance by 1%, only 0.045 ([9] Section 9.D.2). This corresponds to ~30 μg/cm2, a layer thickness of about 300 nm. In comparison, the observations of [5,6] require a layer thickness of at least 10's of nanometer to account for the observed band depths. This suggests that our current measurements are at the edge of detection of the source implied by the spacecraft observations. In contrast to the implications of the reported measurements, the solar wind can provide far less water; concentrated in a single layer, calculations by [10] suggest only 0.01 nm globally averaged per month.

Our current analysis did not take into account how long each surface element has been subject to cold temperatures (i.e., if it had time to accumulate frost). For example, based on a Monte Carlo model, Schorghofer (2014) [11] showed that a continuous source of water molecules arriving on the lunar surface (regardless of the source) would significantly accumulate near the morning terminator. Additional calculations show that the morning terminator should feature about 30 times the concentration of the average nightside abundance, improving prospects for detection. 

Future work includes reanalyzing existing data to include the time of exposure at low temperatures, and conducting targeted observations with LOLA to observe night time polar surfaces near the morning terminator in order to improve the upper limits of detection on transient water frost.

References: [1] Urey H. C. (1952) The Planets: Their Origin and Development. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 245 pp. [2] Paige D. A. et al. (2013) Science, 339, 300-303. [3] Neumann G. A. et al. (2013) Science, 339, 296-299. [4] Zuber M. T. et al. (2012) Nature, 486, 378-382. [5] Sunshine J. M. et al. (2009) Science, 326, 565-568. [6] Hendrix A. R. et al. (2012) JGR Planets, 117, E12001. [7] Zhang J. A. and Paige D. A. (2009) GRL, 36, L16203. [8] Zhang J. A. and Paige D. A. (2010) GRL, 37, L03203. [9] Hapke B. (1993) Theory of reflectance and emittance spectroscopy, Cambridge. [10] Hurley D. M. and Farrell W. M. (2013) LPSC 44, abstract #2015. [11] Schorghofer N. (2014) GRL, 41, 4888–4893.

Acknowledgments: This work is supported in part by the LRO LOLA experiment (David Smith PI), the LRO Diviner experiment (David Paige PI), and the Natural Science and Engineering Council of Canada (NSERC).

CRaTER: Lunar Proton Albedo Anomalies

Figure 1. Top: Lunar albedo proton yield map (cylindrical projection) with anomalous yield regions labeled “A” through “E”. Regions A (Mare Serenitatis) and B (Oceanus Procellarum) are both centered near the boundaries of mare regions. Regions C, D and E are all in the highlands on the far side of the Moon. Bottom: Visible global composite image from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC).


J.K. Wilson, N. Schwadron and H. E. Spence, et al.
Space Science Center
University of New Hampshire, Durham

Introduction: Since the launch of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) in 2009, the Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation (CRaTER) has been mapping albedo protons (~100 MeV) coming from the Moon [1,2].

These protons are produced by nuclear spallation, a consequence of galactic cosmic ray (GCR) bombardment of the lunar regolith. Just as spalled neutrons and gamma rays reveal elemental abundances in the lunar regolith [3-6], albedo protons may be a complimentary method for mapping compositional variations across the Moon’s surface.

Albedo Proton Yield: The CRaTER instrument simultaneously detects albedo protons from the Moon and GCRs arriving from the zenith direction. We divide the number of albedo protons observed over each point on the Moon by the number of GCRs detected over the same location to produce a map of the yield of albedo protons.

We presently find that the lunar maria have an average proton yield which is 0.9% ± 0.3% higher than the average yield in the highlands; this is consistent with some neutron data that shows a similar yield dichotomy due to differences in the average atomic weight between mare regolith and highland regolith [7].

Map Features: There are cases where two or more adjacent pixels (15° × 15°) in the map have significantly anomalous yields above or below the mean.

These include two high-yielding regions in the maria, and three low-yielding regions in the far-side highlands. Some of the regions could be artifacts of Poisson noise, but for completeness we consider possible effects from compositional anomalies in the lunar regolith, including pyroclastic flows, antipodes of fresh craters, and so-called "red spots" which are associated with volcanic domes. We also consider man-made landers and crash sites that may have brought elements not normally found in the lunar regolith.

References: [1] Wilson, J. K. et al. (2012) JGR, 117, E00H23. [2] Spence, H. E. et al. (2012) Space Weather, 11, 643-650. [3] Feldman W. C. et al. (1998) Science, 281, 1496-1500. [4] Gasnault, O. et al. (2001) GRL, 28, 3797-3800. [5] Maurice, S. et al. (2004) JGR, 109, E07S04. [6] Mitrofanov, I. G. et al. (2010) Science, 330, 483-486. [7] Litvak, M. L. et al. (2012) JGR, 117, E00H22.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Hell Q

LROC NAC mosaic M1164853645RL, LRO orbit 23561, September 8, 2014; spacecraft and cameras slewed 3° from nadir, 33.17° angle of incidence, 71 cm resolution from 68.29 km over 33.07°S, 355.72°E [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
Hell Q (3.75 km; 33°S, 355.53°E) seems younger than Tycho, standing out as it does in the nearside Southern Highlands northeast of the more famous astrobleme. 

There seems little doubt the effect of the larger, far more widespread blast zone from Tycho changed the face of this contemporary but pre-existing smaller crater. The chevron effect left grooves untouched down stream and tore away a chunk of the northeast rim, morphologies apparently perpendicular to a straight line drawn southwest to the more spectacular, 109 million year-old Tycho.

View full resolution views, of a variety of sizes, HERE.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Apollo 17 samples further refine bombardment timeline

Photomicrograph of a petrographic thin section of a piece of a coherent, crystalline impact melt breccia collected from landslide material at the base of the South Massif, Apollo 17 (sample 73217, 84). In their article published in the Feb. 12 issue of Science Advances, ASU researchers used a laser microprobe technique to investigate age relationships of three of the distinct generations of impact melt shown in this image.
Nikki Cassis
School of Earth and Space Exploration
Arizona State University

It’s been more than 40 years since astronauts returned the last Apollo samples from the moon, and since then those samples have undergone some of the most extensive and comprehensive analysis of any geological collection.

A team led by Arizona State University researchers has now refined the timeline of meteorite impacts on the moon through a pioneering application of laser microprobe technology to Apollo 17 samples.

Impact cratering is the most ubiquitous geologic process affecting the solid surfaces of planetary bodies in the solar system. The moon’s scarred surface serves as a record of meteorite bombardment that spans much of solar system history.

Developing an absolute chronology of lunar impact events is of particular interest because the moon is an important proxy for understanding the early bombardment history of Earth, which has been largely erased by plate tectonics and erosion, and because we can use the lunar impact record to infer the ages of other cratered surfaces in the inner solar system.

Researchers in ASU’s Group 18 Laboratories, headed by professor Kip Hodges, used an ultraviolet laser microprobe, attached to a high-sensitivity mass spectrometer, to analyze argon isotopes in samples returned by Apollo 17. While the technique has been applied to a large number of problems in Earth’s geochronology, this is the first time it has been applied to samples from the Apollo archive.

The samples analyzed by the ASU team are known as lunar impact melt breccias – mash-ups of glass, rock and crystal fragments that were created by impact events on the moon’s surface.

Apollo 17 sample 73217, before processing a 138.8 gm "tough impact melt" breccia rake sample from Science Station 3. The sample was half-buried near Lara crater and close to the Lee-Lincoln lobate scarp contact, and also well inside the Tycho debris chevron called Tortilla Flat. The rock contained a prominent white anorthosite clast, partially analyzed before the remainder was set aside for "posterity." Full processing has waited patiently for the 21st century. S73-16784 [NASA/JSC].
When a meteor strikes another planetary body, the impact produces very large amounts of energy – some of which goes into shock, heating and melting the target rocks. These extreme conditions can "restart the clock" for material melted during impact. As a result, the absolute ages of lunar craters are primarily determined through isotope geochronology of components of the target rocks that were shocked and heated to the point of melting, and which have since solidified.

However, lunar rocks may have experienced multiple impact events over the course of billions of years of bombardment, potentially complicating attempts to date samples and relate the results to the ages of particular impact structures.

Conventional wisdom holds that the largest impact basins on the moon were responsible for generating the vast majority of impact melts, and therefore nearly all of the samples dated must be related to the formation of those basins.

Annotated reproduction of an LROC oblique NAC mosaic showing the landing site (arrow) of the Cernan-Schmitt expedition in December 1972, a roughly 18 km-wide field of view used to illustrate "Approach to Taurus Littrow Valley," December 12, 2012 [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
While it is true that enormous quantities of impact melt are generated by basin-scale impact events, recent images taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera confirm that even small craters with diameters on the order of 100 meters can generate impact melts. The team’s findings have important implications for this particular observation. The results are published in the inaugural issue of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s newest journal, Science Advances, on Feb. 12.

“One of the samples we analyzed, 77115, records evidence for only one impact event, which may or may not be related to a basin-forming impact event. In contrast, we found that the other sample, 73217, preserves evidence for at least three impact events occurring over several hundred million years, not all of which can be related to basin-scale impacts,” says Cameron Mercer, lead author of the paper and a graduate student in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration.

Apollo 17 sample 77115 was taken from the side visible above of the Science Station 7 boulder at lower left in this processed mosaic. From this vantage on the lower slopes of North Massif Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt had perhaps their best view across Taurus Littrow valley over to South Massif. The lunar module is easily visible at higher resolutions [NASA/JSC].
Sample 77115, collected by astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt at Station 7 during their third and final moonwalk, records a single melt-forming event about 3.83 billion years ago. Sample 73217, retrieved at Station 3 during the astronauts’ second moonwalk, preserves evidence for at least three distinct impact melt-forming events occurring between 3.81 billion years ago and 3.27 billion years ago. The findings suggest that a single small sample can preserve multiple generations of melt products created by impact events over the course of billions of years.

“Our results emphasize the need for care in how we analyze samples in the context of impact dating, particularly for those samples that appear to have complex, polygenetic origins. This applies to both the samples that we currently have in our lunar and meteoritic collections, as well as samples that we recover during future human and robotic space exploration missions in the inner solar system,” says Mercer.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Postdoctoral Researcher positions, SwRI

Far-UV albedos show some agreement with epithermal neutron suppression regions [NASA/GSFC/SwRI].
Erin Rogers, PHR
Sr. Specialist
Employment Operations
Southwest Research Institute

The UV imaging spectrograph group at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) is seeking postdoctoral planetary scientists to join our team's investigations of a variety of science questions using far-UV observations. 

Topics of study include:
  1. Characterization of volatiles within permanently shaded regions (PSRs) at the lunar poles with the Lyman Alpha Mapping Project (LAMP) imaging spectrograph on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO); 
  2. Imaging Jupiter's powerful auroral emissions with the Juno UV Spectrograph (UVS)
  3. Studying the atmosphere of Pluto with the New Horizons Alice instrument
  4. Analysis of Hubble campaign observations in search of water vapor plumes on Europa
  5. Instrument development work related to the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) UVS investigation and other future UV/optical projects in Astrophysics, Planetary Science, Heliophysics, and Earth Sciences.
  • Candidates are encouraged to develop their own additional research projects.

Candidates must have experience with imaging and/or spectroscopy from space-based or ground-based observatories; strong programming skills with Interactive Data Language (IDL) is preferred. A background in scientific analysis and publications related to one or more of the topics listed above is highly desirable. Specific tasks include: analyzing UV spectral imaging datasets; assist with planning future observations; publishing results in peer-reviewed journals and presentations at professional meetings; development of concepts and new technologies for UV/VIS/IR instrumentation and assist ing with flight instrument integration, test and calibration tasks, and leading and/or assisting proposal writing for new business.

All candidates must use the website to prepare and submit applications.  They may reference job number 15-01143 or utilize the following job link:

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Can "chain of title" ever be established on the Moon?

The European Space Agency continues logistical planning for lunar habitat, a vision illustrated in a recently released online agency video presentation. Plans call for utilizing a half-buried inflatable framework eventually covered by 3D-printed and sintered regolith for improved shielding [ESA].
Douglas Jones
New York Times

Who can own Earth's Moon? Or an asteroid? Or a homestead on Mars?

According to the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, no nation can claim sovereignty over any part of any celestial rock. But the treaty is less clear on what a company or an individual can do in space — possibly because in the 1960s, the drafters of the treaty might have thought it hard to imagine a space race led by entrepreneurs rather than governments.

For companies today hoping to set up a Moon colony or to mine asteroids for platinum, the ambiguity is one more hurdle in attracting investors.

“There has been a chicken-egg conundrum to create a lunar legal framework,” said John Thornton, the chief executive of Astrobotic Technology, a Pittsburgh company that hopes to become the first private company to land a robotic spacecraft on Earth's Moon and win the Google Lunar X Prize. “How do you get businesses to invest in Earth's Moon if there is no legal framework versus how do you get a legal framework if there are no business operations?”

The Federal Aviation Administration, which licenses private space launchings in the United States, has now provided some clarity.

Read the full article, HERE.

Related Posts:
China and the Moon (June 19, 2012)